The Touchstone of Humility
We should bear in mind, when speaking of Humility, that there is a distinction to be made between natural and spiritual Humility — between a lowly, meek, and retiring character, which is inborn with some of us — and that which is of God's planting and nurture in a renewed heart. Certainly some are more naturally humble than others — more naturally so. Still, in all who are not under the influence of the Holy Spirit — pride rears its head in some shape or other. There will be either . . .
the pride of station,
or the pride of learning,
or pride in dress,
or, which is perhaps the worst of all, the pride of humility.
Pride even will work its way into our religion — if we are not watchful. All these are so many branches of this lofty, but corrupt, tree — so many symptoms of our defiled nature.
Our First Parents fell by pride — and when the Son of God came to recover us, He did it by humbling Himself. And never was there such an instance of deep humility. 'Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor.' 'Though He was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God,' yet for our sakes 'He made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant; and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death — even the death of the cross!'
He did indeed stoop low to save us. He left Heaven with all its glories — and came into this sinful world. He laid aside for a time His majesty and greatness — and took upon Him our poor suffering nature, that He might pay with His own blood — the debt, the mighty debt, which we owed to God.
Here then is our great Pattern of humility! We, His followers, must be like Him; for does He not say to us, 'Learn of me — be humble like me — for I am meek and lowly of heart?'
Let us then now apply the Touchstone to our Humility, and put ourselves to the test.
WHAT IS GENUINE HUMILITY?
First, a humble Christian will feel that he owes everything to God's grace and love. This was Paul's feeling: 'By the grace of God, I am what I am.' 'To me, who am less than the least of all saints — is this grace given.' No one can be said to be really humble, unless he is fully persuaded that he has no merit whatever of his own. When any one feels himself to be vile and sinful, and is convinced that he deserves nothing but eternal death — then how wonderful and glorious does the love of God appear in providing salvation for him!
Now, can you feel this? Do your head and heart go along with me while I am thus speaking? Can you say, 'Thank God for having taught me this. I see it clearly. I am nothing — and infinite mercy alone can save me from what I so richly deserve!'
I am certain of this — that it is only the humble who can feel the value of a Savior, and who will cordially and thankfully accept His offers of mercy. One of the first things therefore that the gospel of Christ does for us is . . .
to humble us;
to show us what we are — and what we deserve;
to strip us of all our false coverings; and
to place Christ before us as the only refuge for penitent sinners!
Well indeed is it if your heart has been thus humbled, so that you feel inclined to lie low at the feet of Jesus, and to cling to His precious cross for safety. I need not ask whether Christ is dear to you. He must be — for now that you are enabled to lay hold of Him by faith, you would not for the whole world exchange your treasure. You may be poor — but you can hardly call it poverty if you possess Christ. You may have trials and sorrows — but how light is every one of them, now that you can feel you have a dear Friend by your side, who can turn all your sorrows into joys!
It is indeed good to have our hearts thus humbled by the Lord, that we may welcome Him as our complete and effectual Deliverer.
But, secondly, a humble Christian is one who not only considers himself to be nothing — but is willing to be thought so by others. There is a vast difference between knowing our own faults — and being willing that others should know them. It is very mortifying to be accounted nothing in the eyes of our fellow-men. Now, the really humble man is content to bear this. He has no wish to be more highly esteemed than he deserves — in fact, the flattery of his brethren is distasteful to him.
And yet how utterly contrary is this to our natural feelings! The Drunkard would not wish his neighbors to know that he drinks — he would conceal it if he could. The Dishonest man would wish to appear honest before others.
And why all this desire at concealment? It is because people are anxious to keep up a good image before their fellow creatures — although they may have lost it with Him who knows all. The truth is, they 'love the praise of men more than the praise of God.'
What a dangerous snare this is! To be thought well of by our brethren, and to stand high in their opinion — is too eagerly sought after by most of us. We have need not only to fight against the fear of man — but also, and still more, against the love and esteem of man. The esteem of godly men is well, as far as it goes; but it is clearly wrong to be always craving after it. We should rather feel that anything like flattering praise would be hurtful to us — and on that account we should shrink from it, and try to put it away from us.
It is hard, I know, to bring ourselves to this. To pray that we may become low in our own eyes — needs some grace. But to pray that we may be content to be lowered in the eyes of those around us — needs a large amount of grace!
Suppose you were to be informed that one, who stood high for his religious attainments, had expressed an unfavorable opinion of you — would not this be very displeasing? But I am inclined to think that a true Christian, though he would feel a little nettled at the time — would be able to thank God for anything which keeps down his pride, and sets him in his proper place.
The day is soon coming, when we shall be taken off the false heights which we often stand upon, and be brought to our true level — when all the esteem of others shall vanish and pass away like smoke — and we shall be just what God finds us to be, neither more nor less!
A third way in which a really humble Christian shows himself is by having a high opinion of others. Paul says, 'In lowliness of mind — let each esteem other better than himself.' 'Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.'
Whenever you see a person who appears to take every opportunity of putting down others — mark him down as a proud man — and be sure that he does it in order to exalt himself.
On the other hand, whenever you see any one anxious to hide his brother's failings, unwilling to expose his little defects — you will generally find that he is a humble man, and one who deeply feels the many faults of his own character.
How often too it happens, that when we begin to know and feel a little on religious subjects — the great enemy tries to puff us up. He tempts us to speak uncharitably of those about us, to complain that this person is worldly, and that person is inconsistent; and in fact almost to think that no one is right but ourselves. For Satan had much rather that we should busy ourselves with other hearts than with our own.
'Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins!' 1 Peter 4:8
Fourthly, a humble Christian is teachable. He is conscious that he knows nothing yet as he ought to know, and that he has much, very much, yet to learn. Such a person will read his Bible with profit, seeking to become wiser in the ways of God. The hours which he spends in the house of God will be profitable hours; for he will be eager to feed upon the bread which comes down from Heaven, and to drink of the fountain of the water of life.
The proud man will be quite satisfied with what he already knows — while the humble man will long to know more of God, and to love Him more.
Fifthly, a humble Christian is unwilling to thrust himself forward. He will not be like the Pharisees whom we read of, who loved greetings in the market, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi!' Nor is he like haughty Jehu, who called to Jehoshaphat and said, 'Come with me — and see my zeal for the Lord.'
On the contrary, he will wish to avoid observation as much as possible. If he gives money away in charity, he will do it as quietly as he can, according to our Savior's rule, 'Let not your left hand know what your right hand does.' If he prays, he will not wish all the world to know it. If he comes to the house of God, he will go quietly to his place, and there he will pour out his heart before the Lord — for he comes not here to be seen by men, but to offer up his unworthy prayers to the Father of Mercies, and to listen to His message of love. Or, if he talks on religious subjects, he will say as little as possible about himself. If compelled to speak of himself, it will not be to show what a good Christian he is, but rather to acknowledge how unworthy he is, and to display the riches of God's grace in the salvation of one so utterly undeserving.
After all, it is easy to describe a humble person — but it is rare to find one! Some people who are not pious may have a humble manner — and the hypocrite too may display a great outward show of humility. For, alas, a seeming humbleness in the outward conduct may all the while cover a very proud heart — but this is not Christian humility. What we are now speaking of is heart-lowliness; and this is only to be found in that heart which is renewed by the Spirit of God. It does not belong to the old nature, but to the new; and therefore the Christian is exhorted to put it on, as something which he never wore before. 'Therefore, (says Paul), as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved — clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.' And another Apostle says, 'Be clothed with humility.'
What a lovely thing is true Christian humility! Our Savior, as we have seen, possessed it in all its purity — and the more we become like Him, the more will it adorn our character. If you wish to grow in grace — seek to be humble; for it is written, 'God resists the proud — but gives grace to the humble.' The proud heart is puffed up; and like the inn at Bethlehem, there is no room for the meek and lowly Savior there. But the humble heart receives Him joyfully. Jesus delights to dwell in such hearts, and to fill them with His fullness.
'For this is what the high and lofty One says — He who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.' And just as the showers of rain slide off from the lofty hills, and rest in the valleys below — so it is the humble and lowly in heart who receive the largest supplies of grace, and bear the most abundant fruit.
Then make it a subject of earnest prayer to God that you may possess this humility — that you may daily become more humble. And to this end, ask Him to stifle every proud thought as it rises up within you, and to bend you very low in the dust. Think much of Jesus, the meek and lowly Savior. Put yourself often in His presence. Seek His spirit — the spirit of real humility. Put self aside as much as possible — for I believe that true humility consists, not so much in thinking basely of ourselves, as in not thinking of ourselves at all.
It was said of Moses, that when He came down from the mount, where he had been with God, there was an unusual glory upon his countenance. And so will there be on ours — not an outward glory, but an inward and heavenly brightness. We cannot be in our Lord's presence, without bringing away something of His lovely character.
But remember, it is further said of Moses, that 'he was not aware that his face shone' — he was not conscious of his own glory. May you and I enjoy such a close fellowship with God, that we may shine with an unusual brilliancy — while we are all the while ignorant of that brilliancy ourselves!
And we may be sure of this, that if we possess true humility now, we shall carry it with us to Heaven — its stamp will be indelibly marked upon us. There we shall have it in perfection. The inhabitants of that glorious world have no pride. The very angels cover their feet in the presence of God. They veil their faces, and abase themselves continually before Him. And we, if through God's infinite mercy we reach that holy place, though we shall then be freed from every sin — yet shall fall down before Him who sits upon the throne, and worship Him that lives forever, and shall cast our crowns before the throne, never uttering one boastful word of our own worthiness, but forever saying, 'Worthy is the Lamb who was slain — to receive power, and honor, and glory, and blessing!'